The Hamerkop first came to Durrell Wildlife Park in 2009 and builds the largest nests in the world – made of mud and sticks. It can be more than 1.5 metres across and strong enough to hold a man’s weight. The outside of the nest is often decorated with brightly coloured objects. The shape of the head with a curved bill and crest at the back is reminiscent of a hammer, hence the name. Their diet consists of amphibians, fish, shrimp, insects and rodents. According to Malagasy belief, anyone who destroys a nest will get leprosy.
The species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The overall population trend is stable or increasing, but some populations have unknown trends.
This species is sedentary but often makes local movements in semi-arid areas and disperses during the rains. It breeds all year round in East Africa, but elsewhere breeding peaks mostly late in the rains or in the dry season. The species nests solitarily but occurs in pairs or in small groups of 8-10 individuals outside of the breeding season, sometimes also occurring in social groups of more than 50.
The species occupies a wide variety of habitats from forest to semi-desert, wherever water is available. It is commonest in well-watered savanna or woodland and less common in forest, showing a general preference for permanent waters although it will also use temporary wetlands in arid areas. The species forages in shallow water along sandbanks, in reedbeds or in floating vegetation and requires trees to nest and roost in. Suitable habitats include the banks of large rivers and lakes, marshes, dams, temporary seasonal ponds, aquaculture ponds, irrigation schemes and estuaries as well as rocky coasts in Tanzania
The species is potentially threatened by deterioration in wetland water quality caused by the excessive use of pesticides
The birds have been added to Kirindy as part of the showcase exhibiting birds found in Eastern Madagascar. We are also helping in the captive management of these birds by holding individuals belonging to the European studbook for the species.